Since he entered the league in 2012, Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper has hit 24 home runs against the Philadelphia Phillies, tied for the most that he has against any individual team. In the Phillies final matchup against the Nationals on Sept. 12, Harper launched a first inning home run, one that helped the Nationals to sweep the Phillies and contributed to the Phillies fading playoff hopes. As the Phillies look to reach the playoffs in 2019, there’s a school of though that suggests signing Harper, an impending free-agent, may be the best way to accomplish that goal.
Though Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop/third baseman Manny Machado has long been thought to be the Phillies No. 1 target this offseason, both ESPN‘s Jerry Crasnick and Fancred Sports‘ Jon Heyman have suggested that there are some in league circles that believe Phillies managing partner John Middleton could land both this season. While Bovada has yet to release odds on the teams most likely to land Machado in free-agency, they have released odds on Harper:
Red Sox +900
As you can see, Las Vegas seems to think that while the Phillies have a chance to sign the six-time All-Star this offseason, they aren’t the favorite to land him. The Phillies will presumably be one of the two favorites, probably with the New York Yankees, when odds come out for Machado. It’s also worth remembering that a major part of the goal from Las Vegas is to get people to gamble. So while the Tampa Bay Rays aren’t listed as No. 1 favorite to land Harper, this list doesn’t necessarily reflect in order what teams are most likely to sign Harper.
For example, while the New York Yankees have the financial wherewithal to sign Harper, it’s fair to wonder if they will be more motivated than the Phillies to spend on the soon-to-be 26-year-old this offseason. With Aaron Judge in right field and Giancarlo Stanton, also a natural right fielder, at DH, Harper isn’t a natural fit. That doesn’t mean he couldn’t sign with the Yankees and play center field and left field, it’s just fair to wonder if general manager Brian Cashman will pay Harper in excess of $250 million when his addition would be a luxury. Even the Yankees don’t have an unlimited amount of money to spend.
Harper may actually be a better long-term fit with the Los Angeles Dodgers than Machado, who is currently employed by Los Angeles’ more famous franchise. But while Harper would improve any team, will the Dodgers – who have Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Chris Taylor, Kike Hernandez and Cody Bellinger as outfield options – be motivated enough to outspend a team like the Phillies? It’s tough to tell.
From here, the Chicago Cubs, Phillies and Nationals would appear to be the three most likely landing spots for Harper this offseason. If this is strictly a financial decision – which sometimes it is with Harper’s agent, Scott Boras – the Phillies may have the upper-hand. But Harper has spent the first seven seasons of his career in Washington D.C. and for all the team success the Nationals have had in that period, 2018 would be a pretty sour note to leave on. And the Cubs are a historic franchise that employ Harper’s friend Kris Bryant. They also have a chance to win their second World Series title in three years this season, so they could give Harper as good of a path to winning a World Series as any team.
If this is Harper’s final season with the Nationals, it’s been a strange one. Though he made his sixth All-Star team in 2017, Harper had a down first-half by his standards, slashing .214/.365/.468. It’s rather incredible that’s considered to be a bad half for him, because despite the low batting average, he hit 23 home runs and walked 78 times. However, since the All-Star Break, Harper has slashed .304/.444/.560 with 11 home runs, 43 RBIs, 45 walks and a 1.004 OPS. In what was once seen as a down season for Harper, he now has a 29.5 offensive WAR. The Nationals haven’t rebounded as a team in the second-half, though, as they are currently trailing the Atlanta Braves and Phillies in a very winnable National League East.
Harper will headline a class of free-agent outfielders that could also include A.J. Pollock, Michael Brantley, Brett Gardner, Marwin Gonzalez and Nick Markakis.
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